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A deciduous tree 40 to 80 ft high, with silvery-grey bark and glabrous purplish young shoots. Leaves obovate, rounded at the end, usually tapered to a narrow or slightly heart-shaped base, the largest over 20 in. long by 12 in. wide, purplish red and clothed with tawny down when quite young, becoming glabrous above, glaucous and thinly furnished with down beneath, the midrib and chief veins (of the latter there are frequently over thirty pairs) often clothed with reddish-brown hairs; stalk 1 to 3 in. long. Flowers creamy white or pink, large, terminal, and solitary on leafy shoots of the current season, opening in June; petals tapered to a point, at first erect enough to give the flower a cupped shape. Fruits cylindric, bright red, 5 or 6 in. long, 11⁄2 in. wide, carpels beaked, seeds small.
Native of Yunnan, S.E. Tibet, and Upper Burma; discovered in Yunnan by Forrest in 1917. There was at one time much confusion between this species and “M. mollicomata” (or campbellii) which bears its rosy-pink flowers in spring on the leafless shoots of the preceding year. The original description of the flowers by Sir W. W. Smith in Notes, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Vol. xii, p. 213, really refers to those of M. mollicomata. Farrer, who found it in Upper Burma in 1919, also confused the two. Kingdon Ward describes the flowers as white, small, borne immediately above the huge leaves and practically invisible from below, and the tree itself as certainly not the magnificent sight in flower Forrest and Farrer originally believed it to be.
It is tender and needs protection from wind. The tallest specimen known grows at Sidbury Manor, Devon; planted in 1935 it measures 50 × 2 ft (1959). An older tree at Trewithen in Cornwall has attained 41 × 31⁄4 ft (1971) but would be taller if better sheltered from the wind. At Borde Hill, Sussex, a tree raised from seeds collected by Forrest in 1926 was killed in the winter of 1939-40; another, raised from Kingdon Ward 7628, collected in Upper Burma in 1926, has survived in a protected position.
The specimen at Sidbury Manor, Devon, pl. 1935, measures 62 × 33⁄4 ft (1977).